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Denver Broncos 2023 NFL Season Preview: Payton Will Make Difference

As teams head to training camp and the NFL season approaches, The 33rd Team asks its experts to preview every team's outlook for the 2023 season. In this installment, Ronde Barber takes a deep dive into the Denver Broncos

>> READ: Broncos Fantasy Football Preview

Broncos Team Preview

What To Know: Offense

How can this not be Sean Payton as head coach? The offense will be so different than it was last year under Nathaniel Hackett. QB Russell Wilson couldn't have asked for a better coach right now in his career.

>>WATCH: Payton Talks Denver

But how will this marriage work out? I am not overly optimistic the fraud season of 2022 is going to disappear for Wilson. The Broncos have no choice but to stick with him and hope for the best.

However, an underrated story on offense was signing free-agent offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers while adding tight end Chris Manhertz as a big blocking guy. These additions signal the Broncos will have a more run-centric offense, which will help out Wilson.

What To Know: Defense

Denver's defense was the highlight of its season under first-year coordinator Ejiro Evero last year. However, it will look different this season with the return of Vance Joseph as defensive coordinator. Only one player, Justin Simmons, was on the roster when Joseph was head coach. So there will be a big learning curve.

The secondary should be good again.

But the most interesting storyline is the signing of Zach Allen, who was with Joseph last year in Arizona. The team needs more pressure and disruption from its front seven. It's definitely not a sexy pick, but Allen played multiple line positions on that defense, and Denver will install it this year with him doing the same thing.

This guy improved every year in the league and now has a big contract. He'll have to prove he's worthy. I'm looking forward to watching him play.

Biggest Off-Field Storyline

Sean Payton.

A deep dive into any alternative is ridiculous.

This team wanted to make an about-face and lured the most coveted coaching candidate in the NFL to salvage this team.

But since I picked him as the biggest storyline on offense, I will say the biggest story off the field is the return of players from injury. This team was decimated by injuries last year.

The return of injured starters defensive end Randy Gregory, running back Javonte Williams, who was a key part of this team, and center Lloyd Cushenberry III will determine how this team progresses under Payton. Unfortunately, wide receiver Tim Patrick already has sustained another season-ending injury.

Denver Broncos Baron Browning

Breakout Player Prediction

The favorite pick by a lot of people is Baron Browning, who is in his third year as an edge rusher in this 3-4 defense. His five sacks last season are the most of any returning player, and he'll be expected to at least double that in 2023. He was primarily an inside player before making the transition to the edge.

He started midway through last season when he replaced Bradley Chubb, who was traded, and he showed us what he could do. Expectations are high for this kid. It'll be important for him to get off to a strong start.

Move the Broncos Should Make

The Broncos need to sign an impact running back, preferably one who looks like the all-purpose backs that Payton had in New Orleans. If there's one aspect of his genius that is most difficult to prepare for — and trust me, I know — it's how to contain a dynamic back in his offense.

Williams is coming off ACL, PCL and LCL tears in his right knee, and it takes time to return from that. Even when he does, who knows how comfortable he'll be? Samaje Perine is a good player but lacks the dynamism this offense requires. I would not be surprised to see them get an Alvin Kamara-type back before the season starts.

2023 Season Expectations

The best possible outcome for the Broncos is Wilson returns to normal, and this team isn't an irrelevant cog in the AFC. If that's the case, they might even be a surprise playoff team.

We're kidding ourselves, though, to say they are any more than a playoff longshot, and that's only because of my respect for Payton. They'll undoubtedly make strides in 2023, but they aren't better than the Chiefs or the Chargers.

The odds are this team is close to .500 and looks a thousand times better than it did last season. But they're at least a year away from being legit playoff contenders.

Other Previews

NFC East: DAL | NYG  | PHI | WAS

AFC East: BUF | MIA | NE  | NYJ

NFC North: GB | CHI | DET | MIN

AFC North: PIT | CLE | BAL | CIN 

AFC West: KC | LAC | LV 

NFC West: SF | SEA | LAR | ARI

NFC South: TB | CAR | NO | ATL

AFC South: JAX | TEN | HOU | IND 

Ronde Barber is a former NFL cornerback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers whose resume includes a Super Bowl title, three All-Pro teams, five Pro Bowls and a spot on the NFL’s 2000’s All-Decade Team. Follow him on Twitter at @rondebarber.